Digital Project Management Conference 2016

25th February 2016

Our team DPM UK 2016 - Digital Project Management Conference

Well it’s February again, dark wet and cold and not much to look forward to until a chocolate binge at Easter. But there is one thing that brightens up this time of year – DPM:UK (the UK’s Digital Project Management conference) held just around the corner from our office in Manchester.

This year the Project Management Office (PMO) at Kagool had a day out to find out what’s hot and what’s not in digital project management. As ever I found it to be just as relevant as the previous years. It’s great to get together with digital PMs from across the world to bat ideas around, learn how people are solving problems and find innovative solutions to the daily challenges of managing dynamic web projects.


There tends to be an underlying theme that permeates through most conferences and this year was no different. This was the year we began to talk about best practices (or the lack of them in our sector). Yes, we have Prince 2, APM, the Agile manifesto etc but these are either generic PM guidelines or software development methodologies.

As a profession, digital project management does not have a set of specifically written, relevant guidelines to help us achieve day to day. Digital project management is different to PM in other sectors. Our comparatively young age (as noted by the DPM:UK master Sam Barnes @thesambarnes) as well as the age and dynamism of the entire sector means that we have to wear many hats, from strategy and sales to management, creative and technical.

“A DPM should have high emotional intelligence, understand all angles of the debate, think commercially & technically and can be tactical & strategic” @thesambarnes

With all this going on it’s no wonder we haven’t had time to sit down and think about the nuts and bolts of what we do and how we can set a ten commandments of DPM. Although interestingly this is something that Brett Harned (ex DPM at Happy Cog and now a consultant) is looking to change by setting some high level DPM principles. Watch this space.


Another one of the fantastic speakers focused on prioritisation (something DPM’s know well and that we have do literally hundreds of times per week).

“You need a backup plan more than you need a risk register” – @katie_buffalo

I think the key takeaway from Katie was the advice when in doubt, do the thing that gets you closer to done. This sounds like common sense but in an environment with hundreds of decision points, technical challenges and lists of requirements it’s important to never stop moving forward.

Technical Debt

Being a digital project manager means that you are faced daily with technical conundrums to solve with your development team. The issue of technical debt is something which is now coming to the forefront of digital development and to some extent has been the elephant in the room for several years. It’s something we all know exists but all too often is brushed under the carpet as new projects hit the studio and priorities build.

This issue was tackled by @MattThornhillUk who discussed the management of risk while ensuring that you remain transparent and pragmatic to technical debt. Keep it visible with your clients and take ownership of it to ensure that it doesn’t fall by the wayside. It’s scary to think that large organisations have literally been brought to a standstill by technical debt so it’s critical that it is kept at the forefront of the team’s mind. A good PM makes sure that this is documented and kept visible, while ensuring their team has the time and freedom to write quality code and take responsibility.

Methodology Madness

I’d have to say my favourite talk of the day delved into the depths of “methodology madness”. The old Waterfall vs Agile discussion/battle has been raging for many years and has been a hot topic at previous DPM:UK meet ups. This year however it was not discussed as much and I think I know the reason why. I think we’ve literally said everything that can be said. Many of us have experienced both methodologies in practice and we know the benefits and drawbacks of each.

“Don’t adopt a one size fit’s all approach” – @suzehaworth

We’ve discussed the pros and cons until the cows came home and we are all coming to the same realisation which Suze pointed out quite clearly. Often a hybrid approach works best. I’m not saying Agile can’t work if you have a client that can share and match the commitment, risk and availability which you can offer the project. Equally I’m not saying that waterfall should be the approach of choice but with some sprints added in for good measure. Most attendees agreed that you need to assess both the project and the client in order to choose how you are going to manage the project.

As DPM’s we shouldn’t be scared of choosing a hybrid approach, when the traditional methodologies leave us wanting. Don’t be forced into pure agile because you think it’s expected and don’t just continue with waterfall because you’re comfortable with it. Cherry pick the best ingredients from both in order to cook your perfect recipe. A hybrid approach really can deliver the benefits offered by the other methodologies while avoiding the areas that might not work as well for your project. Ultimately use whatever fits your team, your project deliverables and your client best.


All of the speakers were fantastic yet again and I’m already looking forward to next year’s conference. It’s fantastic to meet DPM’s from across the globe and see DPM conferences springing up in the states and Europe. It’s starting to feel like our little community is cracking the shell of the egg and emerging from our infancy into a bright world which we can all play a part in helping to structure. I’ll leave you with one of my favourite quotes, which I think perfectly sums up the current state of digital project management.

“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning……..” Winston Churchill